A journey into stillness to find clarity and purpose
By Andrea Seifert
As I sat on the plane, heading to Bali from Singapore, attempting to read a book on mindfulness, ironically my mind whirred with a million thoughts, making it impossible to concentrate. Anxious and run down, I wanted to get back to a place where I felt healthy, whole and sound. A restorative week in Bali seemed like the perfect place to hit the reset button.
I arrived at an intimate yoga retreat called Rising Collective in the lush surroundings of a private villa tucked away in Canggu. The six-day retreat was run by Jody Vassallo, an acclaimed Ayurvedic chef, cook book author and health coach, and Rachel Fearnley, Yin Yoga teacher and owner of ‘The Pineapple House’, a surfing and yoga retreat in Bali. This was not a yoga bootcamp, and we were not expected to subsist on wheatgrass juice. On the contrary, their approach was gentle and grounded, and supported that change is inspired gradually through nourishing food, therapeutic yoga, healing treatments and, most importantly, practical takeaways that can be implemented on a daily basis. All activities were optional as the purpose of the experience was to get you to ask yourself, ‘How do I feel today?’
Our group of seven women, ranging in age from 30 to 70, kicked off the first day with a big picture exercise called ‘The Wheel of Life’. I couldn’t recall the last time I had taken a step back and looked at everything in my life—from relationships to family to work to exercise—and assessed my happiness levels. Seeing it all on paper came as a rude shock to me, and I felt a surge of emotion rise once it became apparent that while my habits were well-meaning, my days were mostly a mix of a multi-tasking frenzy and an uneasy feeling that I was constantly falling behind. Superfood smoothies and salads were gulped on the go, power yoga sessions were rushed over lunch, and even massages were deep tissue—painful sessions to work out knots from hours slumped over my laptop.
This was reinforced when we began our exploration into the principles of Ayurveda, and the three doshas, or body constitutions—Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Vata dosha, governed by the elements of air and space, fit me to a tee. A constant worrier, I eat a lot of cold, raw foods at irregular times, rely on caffeine for energy and go to bed far too late. I learnt that most of us these days have a Vata imbalance, and it is best for us to follow a routine, and eat warm food.
I went for a private consultation with Jody, which turned out to be less about the details of a good diet, but more about being kinder to myself, and allowing my body to go into ‘rest and digest’ mode. We often remain in fight, or in a flighty state, due to stress, emotional upheaval or fatigue, which in turn can shut off digestion.
I’ve had an on-off relationship with insomnia, an old foe that rears its ugly head in my bed during difficult periods, and I now understand why this is accompanied by an upset tummy. The pieces of the puzzle were starting to come together, and I was starting to surrender into a slower pace, focusing on the present, physical sensations, rather than letting my mind wander into a list of to-dos. A friendly but no-nonsense healer told it to me straight: “Girl, you’re in your head too much, get out of there and you’ll be fine!” A chakra-balancing session coupled with abdominal massage to release trapped emotions yielded powerful results.
So what can be done to instill a feeling of calm in a busy city setting, far away from the fully-staffed serene villa surrounding in Bali complete with healing therapists on call? Work with the breath. Our breathing workshop allowed me to drop deep into a state of relaxation I hadn’t felt in years. What helped a lot to switch off at nights was also a “Daily Gratitude Diary” to put things into perspective. You can make your habits stick by making them simple and quick—I now write three bullet points, take ten deep breaths, and then it’s lights out.
Yin Yoga is also a powerful tool to demarcate day and night, and to get yourself ready for sleep. The yoga sessions were held at sunset in the peaceful garden yoga shala, with the crickets as background music. I began to understand why I needed to incorporate this type of practice into my routine. Yin is about being present with where you are physically and emotionally, as you ease your body into comforting poses. There is something so empowering about letting your neck and shoulders release through a simple forward bend over a bolster—the tension in your mind tends to evaporate too.
We also did sessions in Ki Yoga—a distinctly different practice and a fascinating amalgamation of yogic principles, married with Shiatsu and TCM pressure point touches to stimulate the meridians. This beautifully energizing class closed with guided partner massage, an opportunity to practice vulnerability and care for each other. This paved the way for opening up off the yoga mat too, and reminded me of the importance of communing with your tribe—some relationships are integral to our wellbeing.
Another key element of living well is to feed your brain and soul with knowledge, try new things and learn a skill, the sense of accomplishment in itself is a wonderful feeling. All of this occurred in abundance throughout the week. Each day began with sun rise and journaling before Ki Yoga in the garden shala. This was physically painful as I am not a morning person, and barely functional until my second coffee, but became easier by the third day. Proving to myself that I could reset my circadian rhythm felt like a big win.
‘Food as medicine’ was a mantra at the retreat, and we learnt how to prepare Jody’s famous Coconut Kale Moong Dhal from her latest cookbook, Beautiful Food, along with the science behind the healing properties of Ayurvedic cooking. Another highlight was a guided jungle walk with a local botanist, after which we were taught how to pound, grind, mix and produce our own natural skincare with Balinese flowers, herbs and spices. In between, there was always ample time to take it easy and enjoy the pool, or have a wander through the nearby boutiques.
Knowledgeable, kind and compassionate, Rachel and Jody had given me the gift of realistic tools for better living. Ayurveda is not a magic pill, nor is yoga. You are the master of your own body and mind, and you can heal yourself—sometimes you just need a little nudge in the right direction from the right people.
Andrea Seifert is a freelance writer for Yoga Journal Singapore.